My first time attending a Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers event was extremely enjoyable. The theme of the night’s stories was Pride and Prejudice, and I was sure in for a treat. I walked in a little bit late and was met with the sweet voice of a young girl. Her name was Hannah Wise, as she was aptly named.
I had to pay close attention for the first 30 seconds to catch up and pick up the pieces of the story that I missed. She was talking about bullying and the hurdles that youngsters face in today’s schools. She spoke of enduring through the struggles and keeping a positive attitude and how we can lift each other up and how this can be mutually beneficial. She spoke with such fluidity and conviction that you could feel the power that she had gained from learning the lessons of combating bullies and helping her classmates. The event then moved on in an increasing order of age to a young man named Nicholaus Rainey.
Nicholaus is the son of two preachers. He is an extremely focused and passionate young man. Nicholaus shared the story of when his parents found out about his new boyfriend. He narrated in detail the conversations and damnations that his parents brought upon him. Standing tall in front of the crowd, he spoke of school as being a safe-zone where he could escape the negative backlash from family members. Throughout his story you could tell that by sharing with more people, he was becoming even more empowered. He found creative ways to explain to his parents, their biblical rejection of his orientation, while being calm and even studying more out of his own bible. His experience was empowering in that he struck a balance with his family while being respectful to himself. In his own words he was “freeing himself to be himself.” The words of this young man were extremely powerful even to those that couldn’t relate with the specifics of his struggle.
The next storyteller was a woman named Nicole Pitts. Her story is a very ambitious one and very important to the future of our city. She is not a native to Detroit but her husband is. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to breathe new life into an old situation. While getting some fried okra one evening by her home on the Westside, this San Diego native conceived of an idea to do something with the old Cooley High School. The size and magnitude of any redevelopment project, coupled with her out-of-towner status was not enough to stop Mrs. Pitts. Her project of turning Cooley into a Community Center with residential space in it as well, seemed inconceivable to many. Because of her persistence and inability to take no for an answer and succumb to prejudice from various sources, the project is off the ground and they will be getting keys within a month!! Persistence against prejudice pays!
Another female with a powerful story of overcoming societal stereotypes was the succeeding storyteller. PJ Jenkinson began working for the phone company Southern Bell as a pole climber. This was a very irregular job for a woman in 1974. She was given a route in Hamtramck. The male-centered worldview was present there as it was in many societies. She shared of how one customer asked her if she was married, if she had children, and why she wasn’t at home with them. This was just an example of the day-to-day view that as a woman, she wasn’t fit labor out in the heat, but she should be at home taking care of her family. Looking back, PJ was thankful for all of the life lessons she learned from being a pole climber and how to believe in herself and her own abilities, even when her environment said otherwise.
Last on the list of storytellers was Yousif Barakat. Yousif recalled in his story all of the times he had faced hardships, all because he was Palestinian American. These hardships spanned his whole life from when his family first came to America, all the way into his adult years when the FBI arrived at his home, on the basis that he was believed to be a terrorist supporter. Regardless of his involvement in community politics and peace organizations, the FBI interrogated him on the ludicrous accusation. Yousif’s story of persecution through prejudices was eye opening and motivating.
Between the eclectic group of speakers, the dancers of Samba Soul, and the wonderful vendors, my first experience with The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers was incredible. All of the stories I listened to that night were truly uplifting. I’ll be sure not to miss the next storytelling event at the Charles H. Wright museum on April 17th to hear more heartwarming tales.
Story by Jordan Toffoli, representing GreeningDetroit.com